Updated: Mar 6, 2021
I went from painfully bloated…. …to NO BLOAT in just 48 hours!
Have you ever experienced painful bloating? If you have, you know that it’s uncomfortable, annoying, and hard to get rid of! Bloating can be caused by a number of things such as:
Eating too quickly without chewing thoroughly
Food allergies, intolerances, or sensitivities
Diets high in carbohydrates, sugar, or processed foods
Bacterial overgrowth in the gut
Chronic stomach problems like dyspepsia, IBS/IBD, constipation, SIBO, Ulcerative Colitis, or Chron's Disease
The worst experience I’ve ever had with painful bloating is when I suffered from Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth, also known as SIBO, a couple of years ago. This is a serious condition in which bad bacteria flourishes and wreaks havoc in the small intestine causing symptoms like indigestion, acid reflux, abdominal pain, severe and painful bloating, and chronic constipation or diarrhea.
But how does SIBO develop and how do you know if you have it? SIBO develops overtime and can be caused by various poor diet and lifestyle habits including:
Poor digestion due to decreased stomach acid production
Overuse of anti-inflammatory drugs like NSAIDS and steroids
Unmanaged stress in addition to eating under stress
Diets high in refined carbohydrates, sugar, and processed foods
Excess alcohol consumption
Not everyone who has severe bloating has SIBO. You can have dysbiosis or overgrowth of bacteria in other parts of the digestive tract or just a lack of stomach acid causing indigestion, reflux, and bloating. SIBO can be diagnosed through a stool test or breath test administered by a doctor or specialist to check the levels of various bacteria in your small intestine.
I was able to heal from SIBO through diet & lifestyle changes in addition to supplement support. Now, I suffer from the occasional stomach upset, indigestion, & bloating if I do something I know will set my stomach off, since it’s still sensitive & more prone to issues. I eat generally very healthy, but during the last 2 months I indulged a little too much! Between stress & holidays, I caught myself off track. My gut was feeling it as I was painfully bloated, my energy was low, I wasn’t sleeping well, and I just didn’t feel like myself. I knew I had to revert back to my healthy lifestyle if I wanted to feel my best again.
Even if you don’t have SIBO, but have severe bloating, the tips I’m going to share with you here can help you reduce your current bloating and prevent it from recurring overtime! While everyone is different and there are different causes of painful, chronic bloating, these tips might not work for everyone as they might also not fix your bloating in the same amount of time. However, these tips are beneficial to your overall health & can help you at least begin to feel better. If you don’t see results in 48 hours, stick with them and you should notice results overtime! No matter what the cause of your bloating is, it’s highly important to address the root cause of YOUR problems so you can truly heal.
1) Eat a whole foods only diet. Period.
Majority of people’s diets today consist of:
Processed, boxed foods with artificial ingredients & chemical additives.
Refined carbohydrates like white bread, white pasta, white rice, & white flour.
Excess sugary foods & sweets like cookies, cake, pie, & candy.
Hydrogenated oils like canola & vegetable oil or margarine.
Alcohol & soda.
And majority of people’s diets today lack REAL nutrient-dense whole foods like meat, poultry, fish, seafood, vegetables, & fruits. The foods listed above which are not good for our health, lack nutrients. They can actually rob our bodies of essential nutrients we need to survive and keep our bodies functioning optimally! These foods cause inflammation in the gut leading to symptoms like bloating, reflux, indigestion, and more! Eliminating these foods from your diet is the first step in reducing symptoms & feeling better overall. But, instead of focusing on what you SHOULDN’T or CAN’T eat, it’s best to, instead, focus on what you SHOULD or CAN eat. Include plenty of whole foods that our ancestors would eat as they are important for supporting proper organ function and overall health. Whole foods provide vitamins, minerals, and essential amino acids that we cannot produce in the body or get anywhere else. When you don’t eat a wide variety of whole foods, you end up with gaps in your nutrition leading to deficiencies which then cause health issues to develop. If you’re suffering from stomach problems, only include whole foods you know your gut can tolerate well to help optimize digestion.
This doesn’t have to be forever as I can never stress enough how important it is to find a balance when it comes to your diet and lifestyle. A balance means eating healthy majority of the time and indulging or enjoying foods you like on occasion. I always suggest the 80/20 rule where you eat healthy 80% of the time, and maybe “not so healthy” 20% of the time. But, just until you get your gut back on track and working more optimally, it’s important to focus on eating cleaner to give your body a chance to reset & naturally detoxify. Following the dietary guidelines below can help you do just that.
Include plenty of:
Organic, grass-fed meats: beef, lamb, pork, bison; avoid conventional
Organic, free-range (or pasture-raised when possible) poultry & eggs: chicken, duck, & eggs; avoid conventional
Fresh salt or cold water fish: avoid farm raised
Seafood: shrimp, scallops, crab, lobster, etc
Vegetables & sea vegetables: leafy greens (spinach, kale, collard greens, etc), cruciferous vegetables (brussel sprouts, broccoli, bok choy, etc), other non-starchy vegetables (bell peppers, zucchini, carrots, etc), & starchy vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, etc) in moderation/if tolerated; choose organic when possible; always buy the “Dirty Dozen” organic as they are the highest in pesticides (https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/dirty-dozen.php)
Fruit: choose organic when possible; always buy the “Dirty Dozen” organic (same as link above)
Nuts & seeds if tolerated
Fermented foods if tolerated: sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, etc
Grains (even whole grains temporarily to see if digestion improves)
Sweets & sugar (except raw honey, organic maple syrup, & organic liquid stevia in moderation)
2) Eat in a relaxed state & chew thoroughly.
I’m always running late and so that means I’m either shoving food in my mouth while driving or eating in a rush once I get to work for example. This situation of eating under stress automatically causes me to have indigestion and bloating… EVERY TIME. It’s like every time I do it, I know it’s going to happen but I pray that it won’t… and then it does.
FACT: digestion starts in the brain; and since our brains and guts are connected via the Central Nervous System, if the brain or mind is not relaxed before eating, it’ll cause dysfunction down the digestive chain. The nervous system needs to be in a parasympathetic, or relaxed state, to digest properly. If we’re in a sympathetic, or stressful state, that’s when dysfunction occurs leading to symptoms like indigestion and bloating.
So, if we know we need to be a in a relaxed state to digest, it’s important to make time to sit down and have meals. This means no eating while driving, working, watching the news (which can be stressful), or while doing any other activity that isn’t sitting and chewing! Now, while sitting down to eat is an important part of digesting properly, there are some other important tips you can practice to help make your digestion even more efficient:
Deep breathing: this helps to relax your mind and body. Take at least 3 deep belly breathes before digging in. Inhale in through your nose and let your belly expand as it fills with air. Exhale out through your mouth letting your belly fall as you release all the air fully.
Chew thoroughly: stomachs are not made to do all the heavy lifting, that’s why we have our mouths to breakdown food before it passes into the stomach! Our mouths are the 2nd step in the digestive process and they are more important than you might think. Our teeth obviously breakdown food, but did you know that our saliva actually contains an enzyme which begins the breakdown of carbs? This is why it’s important to relax before eating so that your mouth salivates as it recognizes the smell and sight of food. Then, don’t forget to work those chompers! If you don’t chew enough, you end up sending large food particles down into your stomach where they’ll sit undigested, ferment or rancidify, and turn into bad bacteria. This is how we end up with bacterial overgrowth and overtime more severe issue like “leaky gut”. Leaky gut is when your intestinal lining becomes weakened and allows food and bacteria to pass into your bloodstream; after it enters the bloodstream, your immune system recognizes the particles as foreign invaders and attacks, overtime, this causes further issues like autoimmune diseases. So, make sure your food is mush before swallowing. Chewing 20-30 times is a good tip to keep in mind.
Put the fork down between bites: most of us have a tendency to eat very quickly without giving our stomachs a chance to catch up! Slow and steady wins the race. Putting the fork down between bites forces you to slow down and simply eat slower. This way you can really focus on chewing every bite. It also helps to prevent you from taking in excess air while eating which can lead to belly bloat too.
3) Avoid poor food combinations.
For people who are more prone to bloating and/or stomach issues, it’s important to be aware of the foods you eat together because some combinations just don’t go well together in terms of digestion! Here are food combinations to avoid to improve digestion:
Fruit + any other food: fruit digests quicker than every other food, so when you eat it with other foods, it breaks down fast but then sits on top of the slower digesting foods. This causes it to ferment which leads to bloating.
Protein + starch: sadly, this is the majority of what we all eat! Burger and fries, pasta with chicken, eggs and potatoes… not good for those with sensitive stomachs. What happens is, protein is digested by an enzyme called pepsin in the stomach. Starch causes your stomach to secrete a different enzyme called ptyalin, which creates an alkaline condition. They end up neutralizing each other, making your gut a breeding ground for bad bacteria and inflammation. Protein is also the most difficult type of food to breakdown. Since starch can be digested quicker, your body will naturally prioritize digesting this over protein, allowing the undigested protein to sit longer and rancidify, causing bloating, reflux, indigestion, and overtime, leaky gut!
Instead, eat these foods together for optimal digestion:
Fruit by itself and at least 2-3 hours away from other foods is ideal
Protein + non-starchy vegetables
Starch (carbohydrates like grains/flours, starchy vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash) + non-starchy vegetables
Of course, working to heal your gut and support good gut health is the best thing you can do because who wants to live thinking how they should eat every minute of every day?! By supporting your gut and improving digestion, you are less likely to have a negative reaction to these “unhealthy” food combinations. When working to reduce bloating however, it is beneficial to focus on food combinations that support good digestion.
4) Drink at least 2 liters of filtered water per day.
Water is important for detoxification in addition to tons of other processes in the body. It helps to keep things moving through your system to prevent constipation which can cause bloating if you’re backed up. 2 liters is equivalent to eight 8 fl oz glasses; plus you’ll want to drink an additional 8 oz for every diuretic or dehydrating beverage like caffeine, soda, & fruit juice. Also, if you exercise remember to drink more to replenish any water you sweat out. I like to start my day with at least 16oz of warm water with a pinch of Himalayan salt and a squeeze of lemon. This gets the digestive tract fired up and ready for the day. The salt and lemon provide minerals and act as electrolytes for better absorption and hydration. Back to the whole “being backed up” thing… It’s normal to pass a bowel movement 1-2x per day. If you’re going any less than that, drink up! Water will help hydrate your colon to more easily move stool along and out of your system.
It’s important to note that you should avoid drinking fluids around mealtimes as it can dilute your digestive enzymes and stomach acid preventing good digestion. Avoid fluids 15-30 minutes before meals. If you do need to drink with a meal, just take small sips of warm or room temperature water. Make sure to drink plenty of water all other times throughout the day in between meals.
5) Exercise & move!
Most of us live extremely sedentary lives. Work sitting at a desk 8-9+ hours a day, leave work and sit on the couch to watch TV, lay down and go to sleep. Our bodies need movement daily for optimal function of our muscles and organs. Without movement, we are at higher risk of disease, illness, inflammation, and pain. Lack of functional movement can lead to muscle compensations. For example, if you sit all day, your glutes (or butt muscles) become weakened which can lead to low back pain as your back tries to compensate for the lack of strength in your glutes. This is why often people who sit for long hours end up with low back pain! Your posture also becomes affected because when you sit in a hunched over position for long hours, certain muscles in your shoulders and neck will lengthen while others shorten causing pain and weakness.
Movement truly does have a positive influence on our bodies and organ function. It can help promote healthy function of the pancreas and gall bladder, which are important in digestive function, in addition to decreasing the risk for colon cancer and constipation. Movement also can help prevent cravings or at least make them more manageable as people tend to make better eating choices after engaging in movement.
Moral of the story: get moving! Even if you don’t exercise, it’s important to move frequently throughout the day, although I would highly recommend implementing some type of exercise program into your lifestyle.
Here are some tips for engaging in healthy movement throughout the day:
Set an alarm to remind you to get up & walk around every 30 minutes-1 hour. If you have a smartwatch or fitness tracker, these have reminders built-in!
Stretch frequently throughout the day. Doing neck, shoulder, and hip stretches throughout the day will help prevent or reduce tightness that builds up in these muscles from sitting.
Exercise at your desk. You can simply stand up and sit down 10x or more every hour at your desk. You can even get a under-the-desk bicycle or treadmill if possible.
Create a standing desk. Standing is better than sitting.
Go for a walk during your lunch break. Even if it’s 5-10 minutes, that’s better than nothing!
Exercise while watching TV. During commercial breaks, hold a plank, do some crunches, push-ups, lunges, squats, or any other exercise you like!
When cleaning or doing house or yard work, utilize your whole body! In fact, these activities can work up a real sweat and even leave you sore.
Now, if you don’t currently exercise, it’s important to try to implement some type of regimen or physical activity that you enjoy. Whether it’s yoga, pilates, kickboxing, jump roping, weight lifting, resistance training, hiking, walking, or running, make sure it’s enjoyable! Making exercise fun is the best way to stay consistent, because if you hate it, you won’t stick with it or want to do it at all. Even if you aren’t interested in exercising, walking is a great way to start being active. Mostly everyone can go for a walk daily or at least 3x per week. I recommend aiming to hit 10,000 steps if you’re especially bloated to help sweat out toxins, get your digestive system working well, and eliminate bloat! When I was actively working to reduce my bloating, I made sure to get those 10,000 steps! But, even when you’re not bloated, still try to aim for 10,000 daily.
These are the 5 steps I followed while actively working to eliminate my bloat, with #1 being the most crucial. What you put into your body has the greatest effect on your health and digestive system especially. Nothing beats a healthy diet. If you’re not eating right, you can’t expect any of the other steps to really work as well. So if you really are unable to implement all 5 steps listed here, focus on #1, your diet, and go from there.
You’ve got this! Beat that bloat!
Functional Nutritional Therapy Practitioner & Certified Personal Trainer
*If you have any concerns, please always consult with your doctor before beginning any new regimens.
Jenn Horowitz, FNTP, CPT is a Functional Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and Certified Personal Trainer who works to address the root cause of illness. Jenn is the founder of JTH Wellness, a holistic health nutrition counseling practice specialized in helping people with stomach problems take control of their health through nutrition and lifestyle changes. Jenn works to support and educate others so that they can enjoy life again, pain and worry free. Learn more about Jenn’s nutrition counseling services and schedule a free 15-minute discovery session by visiting her website, http://www.JTHwellness.com.